Female commentators smearing Hillary with their insults were as sexist as the men.Mediamatters.org quoted Peggy Noonan from a Wall Street Journal column: “[Hillary Clinton] doesn’t have to prove she’s a man. She has to prove she’s a woman … She has to prove she has normal human warmth, a normal amount of give, of good nature, that she is not, at bottom, grimly combative and rather dark.”
Maybe these sexist devaluations of Hillary are expectable for the first woman destined to be President of the United States. The steep progress women have made over the past 160 plus years that is now culminating in a female leader of the nation, is causing back-lash against the leader-to-be. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that all women in this country — every color and creed — suffered profound, unimaginable discrimination. Women as a class were so inferior that until 1871, wife-whipping was acceptable and perfectly legal. It took an emancipated slave in Alabama to legally challenge the whipping she received at the hands of her husband, who turned the lash on her after she complained about the children being whipped. She took her husband to court over the attack and won.
Fulgham v. State Supreme Court of Alabama 46 Ala. 143, 146 1871 Ala. LEXIS 146. The high court affirmed the lower court’s conviction of the defendant for assault and battery.
The court justices in Fulgham v. Alabama ruled: “[A rod] which may be drawn through the wedding ring is not now deemed necessary to teach the wife her duty and subjection to the husband. The husband is therefore not justified or allowed by law to use such a weapon, or any other, for her moderate correction. The wife is not to be considered as the husband’s slave. And the privilege, ancient though it be, to beat her with a stick, to pull her hair, choke her, spit in her face or kick her about the floor, or to inflict upon her like indignities, is not now acknowledged by our law.”
Our grandmothers’ grandmothers did not participate in electing government officials because they were deprived of the right to vote. Married women couldn’t buy or sell real estate because they couldn’t legally own any property in marriage. If a woman acquired any property on her own it automatically became her husband’s sole property. Women couldn’t go into business because a woman’s wages weren’t her own — her wages literally became her husband’s property. In divorce, husbands had the prerogative to automatically strip their wives of custody of their children. Women couldn’t become doctors or lawyers because colleges were closed to women. The psychological control over women was so complete that it affected women’s deepest beliefs, undermining our confidence, keeping women from competing in the world.
Then, without fanfare, the woman’s movement was quietly born on July 19th, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, when 200 women gathered at a chapel at the behest of two abolitionists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Stanton read aloud The Declaration of Sentiments that vehemently condemned the deprivation of women’s legal rights under American law. Stanton and Mott were dangerous — they were radicalizing women to the idea that they could have the same rights and opportunities as men. It has taken all these years, for this radical idea to take root and grow — that women are equal to men. It had not yet taken hold in 1960, when women were still relegated to mainly three occupations — secretaries, teachers, and nurses. In 1966, the National Organization of Women was launched, heralded in by the writings of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, Karen De Crow and Barbara Seaman (my mentor), among others. These writers urged women to educate themselves about their own health; to think beyond stereotypes of appearance and gender in the quest for self-identity; to take control of their own bodies; to question authority, challenge the status quo, which was male. NOW battled workplace discrimination, and lobbied for pro-equality laws. Then in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause applies to women.Reed v Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Fast forward another quarter of a century to 1995: First Lady, Hillary Clinton stood at a podium on a stage at the United Nations Fourth World Conference in Beijing China, and against the advice of her advisors, proclaimed: women’s rights are human rights.
The next time Hillary is pilloried by a sexist insult, let us be certain of one thing: Hillary’s decision-making authority is not at issue. Furthermore, Hillary doesn’t have to be liked to be President. She is qualified, and just as tough and resilient. If the insults continue, as they probably will, rest assured she will take it on the chin. In her speech at the 2016 Convention, Hillary said: “More than a few times, I’ve had to pick myself up and get back in the game. Like so much else, I got this from my mother. She never let me back down from any challenge. When I tried to hide from a neighborhood bully, she literally blocked the door. ‘Go back out there,’ she said. And she was right. You have to stand up to bullies. You have to keep working to make things better, even when the odds are long and the opposition is fierce.” We can all draw strength from Hillary’s self-respect and power. No matter what, she is on her way to helping us make our way, as women, in a new dawn.